Article 43


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Monster Devouring Us


Even the men who created the internet are beginning to fear its power to destroy our freedom.

By Michael Hanlon
Mail Online
November 3, 2009

Fast-forward 40 years. It is November 2049 and privacy is a distant memory.

Every telephone call you make, every text you send on your mobile phone, every email and videocall, every FINACIAL TRANSACTION is recorded, stored, analysed and CAN POTENTIALLY BE USED AGAINST YOU.

Each waking hour you are also deluged with marketing calls and sales pitches - which pop up on your mobile, your hand-held computer and even in your car. 

You walk into a shop and not only do the SALESMEN KNOW WHO YOU ARE, they know what you want - before you even open your mouth.


Come election time, you are bombarded with video texts of the party leaders addressing your concerns. The powers that be know how much tax you pay, what you spend your money on, how many children you have and who your friends are.

It is a Britain, indeed a world, where the private individual has ceased to exist, and one in which an unholy alliance of the state and Mammon rules our lives with powers that would have made Stalin sick with envy.

This dystopian nightmare is a distinct possibility thanks to what is probably the most significant invention of the 20th century - the internet.

And although this nightmare is set in the future, much of it is starting to happen.

The net, which turned 40 years old last week, is often touted as the ultimate tool of freedom and knowledge.

But in another 40 years’ time, will we still be celebrating this extraordinary electronic marvel - or rueing the creation of a monster? That is the troubling question being asked not just by technological luddites, but by the founders of the internet itself.

Although most people became aware of the net only in the early Nineties, the global ‘network of networks’ has a history stretching back to the earliest days of computing.

The first network connection was made on October 29, 1969, when an undergraduate called Charley Kline attempted to make a computer in Los Angeles communicate with another computer at Stanford up the coast.

The first word communicated on the net was ‘Lo’ - Kline was attempting to type the word ‘Login’ when the system crashed.

They got it working again and, for nearly three decades, what became known as the ‘internet’ (the actual term was first used in 1974) remained mostly a tool of academia and the military, gradually spreading its tentacles across the globe.

But then came the invention of the world wide web - the means by which anyone, anywhere could easily access this brave new online world.

This was the creation of British scientist Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, his Belgian colleague at the CERN nuclear research institute in 1989.

Thanks to them, we are now in an age when it is almost impossible to imagine life without the net. With every passing year, its power and importance increases.

And herein lie the doubts of its founders.

For while the net has been championed as the ultimate expression of ‘people power’, there is a more sinister possibility. Its dominance in our lives has led its architects to fear it could be used as a weapon of INTRUSION, SUPRESSION and EXPLOITATION.

Already, anti-democratic regimes are increasingly subverting the openness of the net and using it as a weapon against their enemies.

Take China, which went online in 1993 and now has the greatest number of internet users of any nation - about a third of a billion.

This phenomenal growth in internet use has been subsidised and encouraged by the Beijing regime. And yet despite the flow of countless terabytes of data, China is as far from being a democracy as it was at the time of the Tiananmen Square riots 20 years ago. It’s a troubling paradox, but one explained by the very nature of what the internet actually does.

It has been joked that the one thing you need for a totalitarian state to work is a decent filing system. Indeed, it has been estimated that in East Germany, the Stasi secret police ‘employed’ a third of the population to act as snoops on compatriots.

Now imagine that the Stasi had had access to Google.

As Robert Cailliau says: ‘It would have been terrible.’

There would have been no need for a network of potentially unreliable human snoops; just a few servers quietly hooked up to everyone’s telephone lines and computers, monitoring their credit card usage and cross-matching it all with the pictures coming in from millions of CCTV cameras.

Cailliau’s fears are echoed by Professor Peter Kirstein of University College London, the man responsible for bringing the first internet connection to Britain in the early Seventies.

‘Once you have a universal medium like this, it is very hard to keep information about events hidden; to that extent, it is a great tool against oppression,’ he says.

‘However, by the same token, it is very straightforward to build in monitoring facilities into the heart of the network, so that the authorities can discover where the information they don’t like is coming from.’

In other words, far from empowering freedom-fighters, the web can be used to track them down easily and suppress them.

Professor Kirstein believes that in the future, there will be a constant battle, a kind of arms race between the authorities and the subversives - or oppressed.

Whether good or evil will be in the lead in 40 years’ time is anyone’s guess.

Yet Professor Cailliau believes there is an even graver threat from the net than totalitarian tyranny. He believes the ‘really sinister stuff’ will come not from governments, but from big business. The trouble, he says, stems from the ease by which data can be gathered, processed and sold on.

‘The temptation to exploit these things is very high.’

Already GOOGLE, the very SYMBOL OF THE 21-ST CENTURY NET, has been accused of hoarding data from its millions of email users.

Many fear that in the coming decades, Google will be unable to resist the temptation of cashing in on this GOLDMINE OF INFORMATION it holds.

Currently, the company makes much of its money from being a shop windowfor online advertising.

But Google’s ‘knowledge’ of individual people, thanks to its email services and mobile phone applications, goes much deeper than that.

The technology already exists to enable Google, or companies like it, to track every move - quite literally - of the millions who have a web-enabled mobile phone.

A life online

Indeed, it is already increasingly hard to live your life without the internet.

Booking holidays, buying airline tickets, banking, insurance - even keeping in touch with friends - is increasingly being done using the net. And everything you do online can, in theory, be recorded for ever.

‘If I sign up for Facebook and want my account destroyed, it is impossible,’ says Cailliau. ‘They keep tabs on you, there will always be a trace.’

Furthermore, every time you sign up for an online service, be it Twitter, Facebook or even an online supermarket loyalty card, you provide huge amounts of valuable information.

Even data about yourself that you have not directly volunteered can be gleaned by so-called data-mining software - used to spot patterns about your behaviour and sift gold dust from the morass of electronic information that you have produced by going online.

This can then be used to tailor Google’s service to your individual ‘needs’ or even financial status.

‘Maybe when I go to an airline site and buy a ticket, I’ll be quoted a price that they have worked out I will be able to pay - a price quite different from that given to my neighbours,’ says Robert Cailliau.

The key to all this is the ability of Google and other companies to store data.

Every move we make

Forty years ago, storing information of any kind was expensive; now computer memory is so cheap that in the near future it should be possible to record in digital form every telephone conversation, every television and radio transmission and every movie and still image.

Already, more than two billion songs a day are shared over the net, hundreds of millions of video streams are placed on YouTube, the surveillance CCTV cameras in London alone send 64 trillion bits of data a day to their command centres.

By the end of the next decade or so, humankind will be producing more information each second than was produced in the entire 19th century. And all this information can be stored, cross-referenced and mined for eternity.

This is a new phenomenon, and has massive and disturbing potential.

As Professor Kirstein says:

“Every travel movement you make, every commercial transaction, any official request - they are all logged somewhere. Our ability to disappear is completely constrained by any public activity.”

There are laws against this, though they are not well-enforced, but it is still possible - just - to avoid being sucked in by the net.

And surprisingly, one of those trying to is Robert Cailliau.

“I’m not on Twitter, nor Facebook, or LinkedIn, or any of these systems,” he says.

Why not?

“Because they suck in your soul and they will not let you go. Try to get out of any of them, and you will see. They are just like some religions where apostasy is punished by death.”

Forty years from its birth, the net has become ubiquitous, awesomely successful and, in itself, morally neutral.

But the question remains: will the internet of 2049 be a tool we will all cherish - or something which has become a force for evil such as we have not seen in the entire history of Man.


Posted by Elvis on 11/11/09 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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Johne Deere Retirees Loose Medical Insurance


5,000 Deere retirees lose health benefits suit

By George C. Ford
The Gazette
October 17, 2009

A federal judge ruled Friday in a class action that Deere & Co. had not breached promises made to 5,000 retirees when it removed them from the company health plan.

U.S. District Judge Charles Wolfe handed down a 44-page ruling after two weeks of testimony in a bench trial in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in Davenport. Wolfe said Deere had properly informed the retirees that their benefits were subject to change or termination at any time.

He also ruled that the company had not violated federal law under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act when it altered the medical benefits.

Attorney Susan Martin of Phoenix, who represented the Deere retirees, said Friday she had not decided whether to appeal.

The suit was filed in September 2008 by Deere retirees from Des Moines, Dubuque, Johnston, Ottumwa, Waterloo and Hazel Green, Wis.

In September 2007, the company removed the 5,000 so-called “flex” retirees, including former salaried and non-union workers, from its group health insurance plan.

Deere instead offered a program that combined a health savings account with new health care plans for retirees who were not eligible for Medicare. For Medicare eligible employees, the new program combined retiree medical credits with a Medicare Advantage plan.

Deere contended that the new program provided the retirees with more choices for health care.

Martin argued that the retirees had been exploited and misled by Deere about their health benefits. She called it a repeated, widespread and systematic practice.

Deere contended that the company had informed employees in writing of its right to change, modify or terminate coverage at any time. “The court has found the testimony of plaintiffs concerning their claims quite vague in most respects and less credible than the testimony of the witnesses presented by defendants and the plan documents that corroborate those witnesses’ testimony,” Wolfe wrote in his ruling.

Deere representatives could not be reached for comment.

Dave DeWitte contributed to this report.


Posted by Elvis on 11/11/09 •
Section Pension Ripoff
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A.M.A Supports Pot


AMA Ends 72-Year Policy, Says Marijuana has Medical Benefits

By AMERICANS FOR SAFE ACCESS, Medical Marijuana Therapeutics/Research
November 10, 2009

The American Medical Association (AMA) voted today to reverse its long-held position that marijuana be retained as a Schedule I substance with no medical value. The AMA adopted a report drafted by the AMA Council on Science and Public Health (CSAPH) entitled, “Use of Cannabis for Medicinal Purposes,” which affirmed the therapeutic benefits of marijuana and called for further research. The CSAPH report concluded that, “short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.” Furthermore, the report urges that “the Schedule I status of marijuana be reviewed with the goal of facilitating clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods.”

The change of position by the largest physician-based group in the country was precipitated in part by a resolution adopted in June of 2008 by the Medical Student Section (MSS) of the AMA in support of the reclassification of marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance. In the past year, the AMA has considered three resolutions dealing with medical marijuana, which also helped to influence the report and its recommendations. The AMA vote on the report took place in Houston, Texas during the organization’s annual Interim Meeting of the House of Delegates. The last AMA position, adopted 8 years ago, called for maintaining marijuana as a Schedule I substance, with no medical value.

“It’s been 72 years since the AMA has officially recognized that marijuana has both already-demonstrated and future-promising medical utility,” said Sunil Aggarwal, Ph.D., the medical student who spearheaded both the passage of the June 2008 resolution by the MSS and one of the CSAPH report’s designated expert reviewers. “The AMA has written an extensive, well-documented, evidence-based report that they are seeking to publish in a peer-reviewed journal that will help to educate the medical community about the scientific basis of botanical cannabis-based medicines.” Aggarwal is also on the Medical & Scientific Advisory Board of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the largest medical marijuana advocacy organization in the U.S.

The AMA’s about face on medical marijuana follows an announcement by the Obama Administration in October discouraging U.S. Attorneys from taking enforcement actions in medical marijuana states. In February 2008, a resolution was adopted by the American College of Physicians (ACP), the country’s second largest physician group and the largest organization of doctors of internal medicine. The ACP resolution called for an “evidence-based review of marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance to determine whether it should be reclassified to a different schedule. “The two largest physician groups in the U.S. have established medical marijuana as a health care issue that must be addressed,” said ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson. “Both organizations have underscored the need for change by placing patients above politics.”

Though the CSAPH report has not been officially released to the public, AMA documentation indicates that it: “(1) provides a brief historical perspective on the use of cannabis as medicine; (2) examines the current federal and state-based legal envelope relevant to the medical use of cannabis; (3) provides a brief overview of our current understanding of the pharmacology and physiology of the endocannabinoid system; (4) reviews clinical trials on the relative safety and efficacy of smoked cannabis and botanical-based products; and (5) places this information in perspective with respect to the current drug regulatory framework.”



The Significance of US Govt Cannabinoid Patent 6,630,507

By Brinna Nanda
Stop The Drug War
July 23, 2008

When I was at the Patients Out of Time Medical Cannabis conference in Asilomar this last April, I overheard a remark that startled me: “The US Government has a patent on cannabis.” I couldn’t locate the person who made the comment, so I went home and did some online research. SURE ENOUGH, patent number 6,630,507 states unequivocally that cannabinoids are useful in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of diseases including auto-immune disorders, stroke, trauma, Parkinson’s, Alzeheimer’s and HIV dementia. The patent, awarded in 2003, is based on research done by the National Institute of Health, and is assigned to the US Dept. of Health and Human Services.

So, why is this important? Here is a legal document, in the public domain, which flies in the face of the US Government’s stated position with regard to the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance having no “currently accepted medical use”. Believe me, citing this patent stops the “medical marijuana is a myth” advocates dead in their tracks. They simply cannot argue with it. The forces that would keep cannabis illegal are vocal and well funded, but they are not impervious to persistent effort. The lynch pin in the War on Drugs is cannabis. Without the suppression and interdiction of this popular and widely used substance, there simply would not be enough “illegal drug use” going on to justify the huge amount of money and resources spent on “fighting drugs.”

I believe disseminating information about this patent as widely as possible, and to as many people as possible is a crucial strategy in loosening that lynch pin, and changing public perception about cannabis. I, personally, downloaded the first page of this patent and sent a copy (with the assignee highlighted) to every one of my elected representatives. I have also included information about it in “letters to the editor” referencing any cannabis related news story I come across, I use it as an argument in every State medical cannabis and decriminalization initiative, and have mentioned it in all my comments to online posts and blogs of the same nature. I would be delighted if everyone who believes the War on Drugs is a failed and destructive policy, would do the same, until the existence of this irrefutable patent becomes widely held public knowledge, and government ‘s rhetoric is shown to be as hollow as a busted drum.


More Support For Pot


Posted by Elvis on 11/11/09 •
Section General Reading
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R.I.P. Good Jobs


New research by the Economic Policy Institute documents a three-decades long DECLINE IN JOBS THAT PAY DECENT WAGES and provide BENEFITS. In addition to this steady loss of good paying jobs, reports of wage theft, unsafe workplaces and other labor law VIOLATIONS ARE RAMPANT. While these are problems for all American workers, not surprisingly, some groups are being hurt more than others. There is significant variation by gender, race and ethnicity in access to the SHRINKING NUMBER OF GOOD, SAFE JOBS.

Jobs creation effort needs to focus on good jobs

By Algernon Austin
Economic Policy Institute
Noivember 11, 2009

Many of the 8.1 million jobs lost during the current recession [and the past 25 years, ed], have been good jobs. EPI defines a good job as one that pays at least 60% of the median household income and also provides health care and retirement benefits. By that measure, American men are losing ground. The share of male workers employed in good jobs dropped from 46.5% in 1979 to 31.3% in 2008. Of the major racial and ethnic groups, Hispanic men experienced the largest percentage-point decline although in 1979, they already had the lowest rate of employment in good jobs. In 1979, 30.8% of Hispanic men were employed in a good job. By 2008, only 15.3% were in good jobs.

As policymakers consider ways to create more jobs to reverse the longstanding rise in unemployment, which stands at 10.2% nationwide, they should also focus on creating the kinds of jobs that pay more than poverty level wages. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour and pays $15,080 annually, based on a 2,080-hour work year. That wage is below the poverty level for a family of four. By contrast, the 2008 good job wage was $14.51 per hour, or $30,180 a year twice as much.  Without a national agenda to create good jobs, more fulltime workers will struggle to pay for basic necessities.


Posted by Elvis on 11/11/09 •
Section Dying America
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